March 27, 2009 1 Comment
5 Lent Yr B, 29/03/2009
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Jesus’ obedience and suffering and ours”
The Letter to the Hebrews is a mysterious and bit strange. We don’t know for certain who wrote it, a few scholars have even speculated that it was written by a woman. Another thing mysterious and strange about it is that it’s called a letter, yet when we read carefully and analyse it’s genre, we discover that in content and mood, Hebrews is closer to a theological treatise or sermon or series of sermons than it is a letter. What the author sets out to do is make the point that Jesus, his sacrifice, and the new covenant is better than the old covenant, the Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system. Another concern the writer addresses, quite bluntly, is that of a growing inertia within the faith community to whom he or she is writing. The faith community most likely consisted primarily of Jewish Christians because of the author’s familiarity with and frequent references to the Hebrew Bible. We cannot be certain of the exact situation in the faith community. However, it seems there are two compelling possibilities. The faith community is under persecution and is tempted to give up the Christian faith because they may falsely believe that it should prevent them from facing such sufferings. Or the faith community is feeling hurt and rejected by their families after they became Christians and this is tempting them to give up on Christ and their new faith and return to their Jewish faith.
In today’s second lesson, the writer focuses on Christ’s high priesthood. The author emphasises a couple of things: that Christ was chosen by God to be a high priest and it is a permanent-eternal high priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. The writer quotes two Psalms, 2:7 and 110:4, to underscore Christ’s high priesthood. Both Psalms are interpreted to refer to the Messiah and emphasise the divine, permanent nature of Christ’s high priesthood.
The author does not stop with Christ’s divinity. Christ’s humanity is also very important. The writer says: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” The author, although not specific, likely is remembering the Gospel accounts that record those times when Jesus wept over Jerusalem, wept over Lazarus’ death, and prayed with much agony in Gethsemane asking his heavenly Father to remove the cup of suffering from him. In Gethsemane, even though Jesus prayed, it is not true that God saved him from death, nor was his prayer heard to remove the cup of suffering from him. The author may have in mind here God giving Christ the strength to endure his suffering and death on the cross and God’s power at work through Christ’s resurrection, which vindicated his suffering and death.
This makes sense in light of what the writer says in verses eight and nine: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” In the human life of Jesus, we discover that obedience is learned from his suffering. The more Jesus suffers, the more he turns to his heavenly Father for help and guidance. In Gethsemane he prays: “not what I want but what you want,” accepting the suffering and agonizing death on the cross that he is about to face. The writer of Hebrews wants to encourage his or her faith community in their sufferings, so learning obedience from suffering is the example of Christ that the community of faith can draw on. The community of faith can, like Jesus, learn obedience from their sufferings. We too can learn obedience from our sufferings.
Here is the story of one Christian, who learned obedience from his suffering, and we, like countless others are still inspired by his life and work as a faithful follower of Christ.
After various moves and prominent jobs, [classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach] finally settled down in Leipzig in 1723, where he remained for the rest of his life….Bach’s stay in Leipzig, as musical director and choirmaster of Saint Thomas’s church and school, wasn’t always happy. He squabbled continually with the town council, and neither the council nor the populace appreciated his musical genius. They said he was a stuffy old man who clung stubbornly to obsolete forms of music. Consequently, they paid him a miserable salary, and when he died even contrived to defraud his widow of her meager inheritance.
Ironically, in this setting Bach wrote his most enduring music. For a time he wrote a cantata each week (today, a composer who writes a cantata a year is highly praised), 202 of which survive. Most conclude with a chorale based on a simple Lutheran hymn, and the music is at all times closely bound to biblical texts. Among these works are the “Ascension Cantata” and the “Christmas Oratorio.”
In Leipzig he also composed his epic “Mass in B Minor,” “The Passion of St. John,” and “The Passion of St. Matthew”–all for use as worship services. The latter piece has sometimes been called “the supreme cultural achievement of all Western civilization,” and even the radical skeptic Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) admitted upon hearing it, “One who has completely forgotten Christianity truly hears it here as gospel.”
After Bach’s death, people seemed glad to wipe their ears of his music. He was remembered less as a composer than as an organist and harpsichordist. Some of his music was sold, and some was reportedly used to wrap garbage. For the next 80 years his music was neglected by the public, although a few musicians (Mozart and Beethoven, for example) admired it. Not until 1829, when German composer Felix Mendelssohn arranged a performance of “The Passion of St. Matthew,” did a larger audience appreciate Bach the composer.1
In the midst of Bach’s suffering and hardships, he learned obedience. Before he started his compositions, Bach would pray: “Jesus help me,” and at the end of his compositions he would write the letters: “SDG,” shorthand for the Latin words Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.” Christ’s learning of obedience through his suffering inspired Bach to learn obedience through his suffering too by trusting in his suffering Saviour for inspiration to compose his beautiful musical works.
I know the same is true for me in my life too. In times of suffering I have learned how important it is to be obedient to Christ. Thanks to him, I have overcome those times of suffering. I’m sure you too have stories you can tell about how Christ his helped you and been with you so that you too have learned to be obedient to Christ and overcome your times of suffering.
In today’s world, the words obey and obedience are not very popular. I know, as some feminist theologians have correctly pointed out, that the reason for the negative press is how obey and obedience were employed by men in the past to justify the abuse, misuse and control over women and children. As people of faith we need to acknowledge the truth of this observation by the feminist theologians and repent of the sins committed under the pretext of obey and obedience in the biblical sense. However, this does not necessarily mean that we must drop the words obey and obedience from our vocabulary. Rather, it is our task to rediscover the positive and hopeful biblical meanings of these words. In the biblical sense of obey and obedience, we emphasise accepting the will and authority of God and Christ over us as we endeavour to live a life of faith by loving God and loving neighbour. In a positive, hopeful way, the apostle Paul spoke of sufferings teaching us obedience insofar as “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3-5) And he later goes on to say in chapter five that thanks to Christ’s perfect obedience to God, all people of faith are made righteous.
So during this season of Lent, we live under the shadow of Christ’s cross, which is the epitome of God’s saving love for us through perfect obedience. A perfect obedience that completes and brings to full maturity the love of God for us today and forever. Amen.
1 Cited from: Perfect Illustrations For Every Topic And Occasion (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2002), pp. 262-263.